I’ve learned a number of home design lessons from my dad. When my sister and I were kids, Dad built everything for the backyard: he skillfully designed and constructed our wooden sandbox and swingset and even built us a tree fort! To this day, he engages in a number of household projects—and even insists on cleaning the gutters himself into his 60s. He’s taught me that no DIY is insurmountable, and time, effort, and careful craftsmanship pays off.
In celebration of all of the inspiring dads out there, we spoke with 11 designers who shared the best home tips they’ve learned from their dads over the years.
Invest in What Is Special, and You Won’t Regret It
“My dad sold Herman Miller furniture and knew Ray Eames when I was growing up. He always stressed to invest in well made authentic pieces that are classic and you’ll have forever. I have his original Eames chair with the rosewood shell, and it’s one of my most special pieces.”
—Kristen Nix, principal and designer at Kristin Nix Interiors in Austin, TX
Always Keep Your Eyes Peeled
“My dad purchased homes over the years as I was growing up and fixed them up, for the most part, all by himself. He has won awards for his historic restorations. He has always taught me to look for hidden issues that can arise in a home. When looking for our own home and our beach house, I always had my dad come check out the houses with me. Since I love old homes, he is my reality check steering me away from a money pit. He can see the big picture but is also smart about it.”
—Sarah Trumbore, founder of ST Studio, Inc. in Boston, MA
Organization Is Key
“My dad, Richard, is an organizational wizard. Look in his toolbox, or even his suitcase, and you can see how methodical he is. Growing up he modeled ‘a place for everything and everything in its place,’ which absolutely influenced my approach to interior design. I love designing kitchens, pantries, offices by giving thought to everything that may be needed in the future, the most sensible location to put them, and the most ideal way to store them. This translates to ease of living in our spaces!”
—Mel Bean, designer at Mel Bean Interiors in Tulsa, OK
“One of the best things I got from my father is his organization and neatness! He was always purging things throughout our home as a child and making sure things were always in their place. He was very into labeling things and making sure if you borrowed something that you had to return it to its place. I remember thinking, ‘God he is so annoying!’ Now that I am a mom and have taken on his Type A neatness and organization I hear myself saying the same thing to my husband and kids! I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!”
—Cara Woodhouse, founder of Cara Woodhouse Interiors in Brooklyn, NY
“My father's design influence in our home was largely confined to his home office. As a child, I recall a number of vintage signs and maps of personal significance haphazardly hung on the walls around his messy desk: a map of Bologna, Italy, where he lived for several years, a vintage college game day poster, an archival photograph of the former entrance to the Holland Tunnel (Yes, Dad, I, too, am in disbelief they built a major tunnel without provisions to move traffic to it.)
As I look around my own apartment, an oversized vintage photograph of the Bayonne Bridge from my hometown hangs above my bed, an original 'McGovern For President' campaign poster (no relation other than sharing a surname), and an old NYC MTA subway map hangs near my own very messy desk (a sign that perhaps my design aesthetic wasn’t all from my mother).
Surround yourselves with items that have personal significance for a more interesting interior space. And regarding our shared love of untidy desks, I’ll defer to Einstein, ‘If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?’”
—Chris McGovern, founder of McGovern Project LLC, in New York, NY
You Can DIY All the Home Upgrades
“My dad taught me how to tile! In fact, together, he and I tiled the kitchen backsplash at my beach house here! It really wasn’t so hard with his guidance, and we started with a simple subway tile which is easy to cut. We also made the floating shelves using bolts and lumber: My dad also taught me that lumber can look just as good as show wood at a fraction of the price. What my dad instilled in me from an early age is that I can do whatever I set my mind to, including tiling backsplashes, changing electrical fixtures, or installing flooring.”
—Tiffany Leigh Piotrowski, founder of Tiffany Leigh Design in Toronto, CA
“My dad is very good at spatial planning and visualizing. I don't know if I got that from him? But I like to think I [did]! He also taught me to trust my instincts—which I do every day at Katie Davis Design.” —Katie Davis, founder and lead designer at Katie Davis Design in Houston, TX
Understand the Value of a Dollar
“My dad taught me: ‘You must learn the value of the dollar.’ He insisted I have a job since I was in high school. He instilled an incredible work ethic in my sister and myself. To this day, I value this lesson—though at the time I did not always agree. I absolutely would not be where I am today without this. He drove my sister and I both to start our own careers, much like he did.”
—Kara Adam, principal and founder at Kara Adam Interiors in Dallas, TX
Always Seek Out Mementos
“My father loves to travel and taught me to always purchase at least one special object or piece of art when on an adventure, but make sure it is authentic to the place, not just some tourist tchotchke trinket. My mother and father still have a wall covering hanging in their home from his solo motorcycle trip to Bali, as a young 20-something. I have acquired some beautiful pieces over the years: a small lacquer box from St. Petersburg, depicting a Russian fairy tale, I purchased on a high school art history trip; a beautiful wooden bowl form Honduras I got on a SCUBA diving trip with my brothers; a wooden box I hauled back from Cambodia which now holds drawings and cards my children give me. These all hold special places in my home and remind me of my travels, and my father’s sage advice, whenever I look at them.”
—Sarah Winchester, interiors photographer at Sarah Winchester Studios in Boston, MA
Paint, Paint, Paint!
“My dad is an exceptional painter and has refined his craft over the years. He has always encouraged me to try out different painting techniques in my bedroom as a child. When I was around 16, my dad helped me paint my entire bedroom purple using a feather duster to create a textured pattern. It turned out beautifully and I still remember how much fun it was to indulge in my crazy idea!”
—Heather DiSabella, founder of Heather DiSabella Interior Design in Washington, DC
Don’t Take Shortcuts
“One of the biggest things my dad has always taught me is to take my time to do things right the first time. Shortcuts might save you time in the moment but they will cost you time and money in the long run. This applies to things as simple as putting the toilet paper on the roll right away rather than simply setting it next to the toilet paper holder. It also applies to bigger concepts like interior design and styling. If you rush to finish a project or perhaps try to save money and buy a lower quality product, you’ll end up spending more time and money in the future trying to fix bad work and replace low quality items.”
—Lauren Meichtry, pillow designer and home stylist at Elsie Home in Manhattan Beach, CA